The special tribute recognizing Burton’s years of involvement, leadership and support of the arts and historic preservation which have enriched the local community and the entire state of Ohio is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, May 30 at the SOMC Friends Center, 1202 18th Street. The evening will feature comments by personal friends, arts supporters and former Ohio Arts Council Executive Director Wayne Lawson, PAAC Director DeLynn Coppoletti announced. Guests will enjoy wine and hors d’oeuvres.
Musical entertainment by Michael and Amy Barnhart, Bard and Jan Suverkrop, Stanley Workman, Jr. and Steve Free will highlight the festive program. A silent auction of works by area artists will include Kate Kerr’s original colored pencil and watercolor framed piece titled “Martha’s Wildflowers,” along with her donation of a work by her late husband, former Shawnee State Professor of Art Phillip Gearheart, a creation by Huntington ceramic artist Bill Meadows and others. Colorful silk scarves, hand-painted by Kerr, and flower-filled decorative vases from Blenko Glass Company in West Virginia, both for sale at the end of the evening, will serve as decorations for the artistic scene.
Admission to the “Martha Burton Evening of Honor” is $50 per person. Reservations are required and should be made by telephoning Coppoletti at (740) 351-3642 no later than May 25. All proceeds from the event and silent auction will benefit the Portsmouth Area Arts Council’s programs and performances for area school children.
Burton’s long-time arts involvement began in 1968 when she chaired a champagne preview fundraiser for “A Town and Its Artists,” a major project which became the catalyst for the formation of the Portsmouth Area Arts Council in 1970. As a member of PAAC, she worked on several Boneyfiddle fairs aimed at historic preservation and economic revival of Portsmouth’s oldest section in the 1970s.
In the late 1970s Burton served as co-chairwoman with the late Libby Cunningham for the Southern Ohio Museum and Cultural Center’s initial capital campaign which resulted in the opening of the arts facility in September of 1979. She continued to chair the museum’s annual membership drive for the next 25 years, and served on the Museum Board of Directors in several capacities including president and secretary.
For 14 years Burton wrote columns for the Portsmouth Daily Times, the Community Common and the Scioto Voice advocating for the arts and historic preservation locally and statewide. She also worked to institute the Southern Ohio Museum’s City Sample School Program (now called the All-Day Tour Experience) that offers area students a full-day immersion in the arts.
Governor George Voinovich appointed Burton to the Ohio Arts Council Board for a five-year term in 1991; Governor Bob Taft appointed her for two more terms, totaling 10 years, and in 2006 Governor Ted Strickland reappointed her to another five-year term. When that term ends in 2011, she will have served longer than any other member of the Ohio Art Council. During her time on the OAC Board, Burton has worked on committees for new programs in the Appalachia area that included The Ohio Hill Country, the Ohio River Border Initiative with West Virginia, the Community Development Initiative which focused on three Ohio communities with Portsmouth as the model for a small rural city, the Quilt Barns Initiative, the State of the Arts Report, a retreat of the full OAC Council and staff in Portsmouth, and many workshops.
In Portsmouth Burton worked to get several buildings, including Second Presbyterian Church and the first U.S. Grant Bridge, on the National Historic Register and fought to save the historic bridge. A park named in her honor was established next to the new U.S. Grant Bridge last year. Burton also served on the Ohio Historic Site Preservation Advisory Board and played a primary role in getting Portsmouth designated as a Main Streets and Certified Local Government community. She was a founding member of the Heritage Ohio organization.
Born in Portsmouth in 1928, Burton moved to Wilmington, Ohio, where her father was the editor of the Wilmington News Journal, when she was six months old. The family returned to Portsmouth just before she finished the eighth grade. She attended Portsmouth High School and after graduation, studied nursing at Christ Hospital School of Nursing in Cincinnati. She met Everett Burton while she was in high school, and they were secretly married in Lexington, Kentucky in 1948 because marriage was not allowed in nursing school at the time. She transferred to Good Samaritan Hospital in Lexington where she graduated with honors in 1950, and worked as a scrub nurse for several surgeons. Everett graduated from law school in 1951, and they returned to Portsmouth after he passed the Ohio Bar Exam that July. She was married to Judge Burton for 56 years until his death in 2003.
Burton has two daughters, Laura, who lives and teaches elementary school in Worthington, Ohio, and Lindsey, who is married to Judge Russell Kegley and serves as Literacy Coach for the Portsmouth City School System. Burton has four grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and two step great-grandchildren.
After spending the major portion of her life in Portsmouth, Burton relocated to Worthington in 2008. To no one’s surprise, she was asked to serve on the board of the new McConnell Arts Center, a five million dollar project in Worthington, and was a member of the Center’s search committee for the executive director. Even a new town and four decades of involvement with the arts and historic preservation can’t keep Martha Burton from continuing to volunteer for the good of the arts and her community.